PAUL GIAMATTI DUSTIN HOFFMAN ROSAMUND PIKE SCOTT SPEEDMAN MINNIE DRIVER
The trailer for Paul Giamatti’s new film didn’t hold much interest for me. However, after the always critically acclaimed Giamatti (Sideways, The Last Station) won best actor in a comedy at the Golden Globes, this small Canadian film got more attention. Barney’s Version is now nominated for an Academy Award in the makeup department. The strong point of this film, directed by television director Richard J. Lewis, is Giamatti's performance. The movie’s biggest problem is the flirtation with comedy before things become grave, serious and more interesting. This is almost two movies that would have fared much better as one.
Barney Panofsky (Giamatti) has had two failed marriages and now finds himself completely happy with the family he and Miriam (Pike), his third wife, have made. Barney has a tendency to begin something and then find something better to chase after; that’s how he met Miriam at the wedding after party of his second marriage. Barney is also a subject in the investigation of the disappearance of his best friend Boogie (Speedman), who he caught with wife number two (Driver). Barney is a successful television producer, but it’s his off screen life that contains all the drama.
Drama is exactly this film's strong point. It isn’t until the third marriage begins that Giamatti really grows into the character and things become interesting. Giamatti does what he has become iconic for and that’s turning un-likable characters into multidimensional human beings that the audience finds empathy for… but just barely here. Barney’s Version is also a great acting vehicle for British actress Rosamund Pike (Pride & Prejudice, An Education),who turns in her best performance to date. Even Dustin Hoffman has some nice memorable scenes.
What keeps this movie from greatness is all the “comedy” in the first and second act of the film; the movie begins with a variety of ridiculous behavior that sets us up for a half hearted story about characters that are not particularly likeable. Then, almost without warning the comedy fades and things get very serious--mental illness serious. By this point, however, the comedy of the film has tricked the audience and I found it difficult to really care for Barney the way I could have if the third act of the film had been the entire focus; It also could have made Giamatti a more serious awards contender. The make-up nomination isn’t unfounded, as we see both Giamatti and Pike age throughout the film.
Final Thought – Giamatti and Pike give great performances.
By: Dustin Chase W.
Editor: Michael Woody